Dressing gown for boy doll, fabric, made by Kathe Kruse, Germany / Australia, 1920-1960
The dolls are a significant example of the importance toys can play in children's lives and provide an insight into children's clothing fashions in the period 1920 to 1960. They were made by the German dollmaker Kathy Kruse whose dolls were noted for their realistic faces and meticulous attention to detail. Initially the dolls' heads were modelled with wigs only being added after 1929. This pair of dolls is particularly interesting since they remained with their original owner until being acquired by the Museum and have survived with their extensive wardrobes intact. The boy doll was called Sasha and given to George Peters in 1924. Four years later he was given to Toni for Christmas. The girl doll was called Ursula and also given to Toni in 1930. The children's mother Anna Peters (1893-1985) made an extensive wardrobe of clothing for the dolls, many outfits being modelled on her children's own clothes. Toni helped her mother make the dolls' clothes and later added to the collection when she gave the dolls to her own daughter Anna Dowe.
Anna Peters trained as a teacher and married into a medical family. During the war her husband lived in England while she moved from Germany to Turkey with the children. Toni married an Australian and emigrated to Australia in 1947, bringing the doll's with her.
This dressing gown was designed and made by Kathe Kruse in Germany between 1920-1960.
Kruse began making dolls for her own daughters before showing them in local exhibitions. In 1910 she was invited to exhibit her dolls at an exhibition at a large department store in Berlin. The first doll was known as Doll 1 and was based on a sculpture by Francoise Duquesnois. It was made of cloth with moulded and painted features, and completely made by hand. The head was oil painted and the sturdy body stuffed firmly with excelsior (later reindeer hair was used). These early dolls had wide hips and the thumb was sewn on separately. The dolls were an immediate success, defying the experts who were skeptical of a doll that didn't have a moveable head, eyes that slept, or even a wig. After the exhibition, mothers flocked to her apartment in Berlin wanting dolls for their children. With the dolls causing such interest, Kathe Kruse signed a contract in December 1910 with the famous doll makers Kammer and Reinhardt. They sent their specialists to learn her techniques, but she was never happy with the dolls they produced. The contracts were dissolved, and these dolls which were only made for a few short months, are now extremely rare.
After this disappointment, things improved when an order was received from the famous American toy store, F.A.O. Schwartz for 150 dolls to be delivered by November 11, 1911. With the help of one painter and five sewers, they worked day and night, with even Max Kruse lending a hand. It was an incredible feat that Kathe Kruse managed to complete the order in time as she had no experience with mass production. When an order followed for another 500 dolls, she realised she would have to produce the dolls commercially.
A workshop was set up in Bad Kosen and from there the dolls were eventually sent all over the world. Never a cheap doll and always top quality, Kathe Kruse dolls were beautifully presented with meticulous attention to detail. At its peak there were 120 workers employed at the factory.
Kathe Kruse had three daughters and four sons, and some of their names were used for the dolls over the years. Different doll moulds were produced, and one of the rarest is "Bambina". This doll was made as a doll for a doll and was only 20cm in size.
The only Kathe Kruse doll ever made with a smiling face was "Schlenkerchen", first introduced in 1922. He also had a wire skeleton under the fabric covered body, and his head and limbs were loosely attached. This is a rare and desirable doll and was only made for 15 years.
It wasn't until 1929 that Kruse made dolls with wigs. This came about when a shop in Munich requested dolls to decorate their shop windows for Mother's Day. Sofie Kruse modelled the heads, surprising even her parents with her fine talent. Sofie said there was an enormous world of difference between play dolls and the shop window dolls. The shop window dolls had to be posable, free standing and to have wigs. She first constructed the ball jointed skeleton with the help of their plumber, and on her mother's 50th birthday, presented her with the first doll of this type. It was five years from when the child size models were first introduced to when the first adult size models were made.
A new workshop was started in Donauworth by two of the sons of Kathe Kruse in 1946. Kruse joined them in 1950 and in 1956 she retired, handing over the reins to her children. After World War II, the expensive hand made dolls of Kathe Kruse were out of the reach of many people, so in the 1950s she departed from her principles of cuddly cloth dolls and granted a licence to Schildrote to produce some of the models of her dolls in celluloid. They created great interest in 1955 when first shown at the Nurenburg Toy Fair, but never gained the popularity of the cloth dolls and were only made for five years. Kathe Kruse dolls with plastic heads were first made in 1955.
In 1968, at the age of 85, Kruse died. The factory continued to be a family run business until 1990. Today the factory is still in Donauworth, making dolls with the same high standards set in Kathe Kruse's day. Much of the work is still done by hand, and it takes twelve hours to complete one doll. The factory employs 65 people, with a further 75 working from home. Some of the original workers have been there for 30 years.
For more information see: Richter, L., "Treasury of Kathe Kruse Dolls" (Texas, 1984).